Khabib Nurmagomedov (left) in his 2018 title defending fight against Conor McGregor.
For the first time since 2011, Khabib Nurmagomedov is no longer a part of mainstream mixed martial arts (MMA). The former Russian fighter and current coach announced his retirement from his MMA career on January 5, bringing an end to more than two decades of his part in the sport. Nurmagomedov stated that he will be “taking some time off for his family,” and is unsure about whether or not he will return. This announcement has come as a surprise to much of the MMA community, seeing as Nurmagomedov is the coach and cornerman of Islam Makhachev, the current UFC Lightweight Champion, who will be attempting to defend his title in a month on February 12.
However, this unsuspected and jarring exit mirrors his first retirement from the UFC. Nurmagomedov first announced his retirement in the interview following his title-defending fight against Justin Gaethje in October of 2020. Nurmagomedov won that fight, maintaining his position as the champion, but he still chose to retire. While he was still in control of the championship belt, this retirement caused him to vacate the title. Under most circumstances, this rapid exit from the sport would seem almost foolish, because who would wish to lose their title even as they continue to win fights at the highest level? Much of the time, a fighter will go into an early retirement because of damage sustained in fights or other health issues, but Nurmagomedov was in no worse condition than usual after his 2020 fight against Gaethje. In truth, the reason for Nurmagomedov’s retirement is unrelated to his performance in MMA or his health; it is much more significant.
In 2020, Nurmagomedov’s father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, became ill and passed away due to complications caused by COVID-19. This was only a few months before his third title defense fight against Gaethje, and Nurmagomedov was, understandably, distraught, even more so as he would be fighting without his father in his corner. He was quoted in a post-fight interview saying, “No way am I coming here without my father.” In the same interview, Nurmagomedov expressed that his mother didn’t wish for him to fight any longer either: "She didn't want me to fight without father and I said this is my last fight - and I have given her my word.”
Seeing as his first retirement was caused by the loss of family, it would make sense that his retirement this month would be for a similar reason. Surely, it is difficult to stay on a busy coaching and cornering schedule for ten different fighters while also spending time with his family. With the unfortunate passing of his father, it is perfectly understandable that Nurmagomedov would want to step away from MMA and have more time for his family.
While every MMA fan will be sad to see him go, perhaps for the final time, we must remember all the incredible and wild moments he has given to us. From his 29-0 record to his harrowing victory over Dustin Poirer, he was always a joy to watch. His controversy with Conor McGregor will go down as one of the most explosive and hateful rivalries in UFC history, both inside and outside of the octagon. His three title defenses of the UFC Lightweight belt are only matched by three other greats, and who knows how many more he could have had if he fought for longer. While Nurmagomedov’s exploits in the ring are extraordinary, he maintains a skill for work outside of it as well. He coached and cornered his fellow Russian, Islam Makhachev, into his own Lightweight title belt, as well as his cousin, Usman Nurmagomedov, into an undefeated record and a Lightweight championship in Bellator, another MMA fighting series seen as the minor leagues for the UFC.
Khabib Nurmagomedov stands with the greats inside the ring, but now he has chosen to stand with his family. Although his fans will miss the sight and impact of him in the MMA community, we wish him a long and happy retirement, as well as success in whatever he might pursue in the future. If he ever comes back, he will be welcomed with open arms, but even if that never happens, he has already left a legacy that will be matched by few.